Field research can be defined as a qualitative method of data collection that aims at observing, understanding, and interacting with people. This observation of people is done in the natural environment of the people.
For example, nature enthusiasts observe animal behavior in their wild surroundings to find the way they react in specific scenarios. Similarly, social scientists conduct field research and observe people and conduct interviews to understand their behavior in their social environment and how they respond to different situations.
There are different methods of social research methods that are used by field research like direct observation, document analysis, limited participation, surveys, and interviews, etc. Field research is categorized as qualitative research, and it involves many aspects of quantitative research.
Field research starts in a specific setting and even though the end objective is to analyze and observe the behavior of the subject in their natural environment. Although it is difficult to understand the cause and effect of the particular behavior of the subject, it is due to multiple variables. Most of the data which is collected is not based entirely on cause and effect correlation. Typically the small sample size makes it difficult to establish cause and effect relation.
Reasons for conducting field research
Field research can be used in many cases in social sciences, but it takes a lot of time to complete and is very expensive as well as invasive. But it is also commonly used and is preferred by many researchers to validate the data. Here are a few significant reasons why this is so:
- Overcoming data lacking: A significant gap in data is resolved by field research. Usually, there are fewer data about a study topic, and this is especially true in specific environments. The problem may or may not be known, but there is no way to prove it without the data collection and analysis and primary research. Field research not only helps to plug in the gaps in data but also collects supporting material. This is why it is a preferred method of researchers.
- Understanding: Data collection is insufficient in many cases, but the field research is conducted nevertheless. This gains insight into the present and existing data. For example, if the data says that a pizza place sells a pepperoni pizza, the most and the owner says the reason for it is they use fresh pepperoni. But research will help to gain new insights and other factors which are leading people to buy pizza. It may be the price of the product.
- Improving the data quality: Because the research method uses more than a single tool for data collection, the data is of very high quality. Inferences may be made from the data collected, and it can be analyzed structurally.
- Supplementary data: Field research habituates the researchers to adopt localized thinking which opens a new line of thinking. This can assist in collecting the data which the study did not want to collect.
How to conduct Field research?
Owing to the nature of field research, the costs and the timeline required, it can be challenging for field research to plan and be implemented. However, the following are a few of the necessary steps in field research:
- Building the right team: It is essential to have the right team to conduct field research. The role of the researcher and every other team member is crucial. It is equally important to define the tasks which they have to carry out with properly defined milestones. Also, senior management is vested in the process of field research and for its success.
- Recruiting the people: The ultimate success of field research depends entirely on the people on which the study is being conducted. With the use of sampling methods, it is crucial to derive the people who will be a part of your study. The better the sampling method is implemented, the better the people will be who will participate in the study.
- Data collection method: Methods of data collection are various. There could be interviews, surveys, observations, case studies, and a mix of them. Everything has to be written out properly, and the milestones for every method should be pre-defined at the beginning. For example, the survey design is crucial in the case of a survey that is created and tested before the research.
- Site Visit: It is essential to have a site visit for the success of field research. Usually, the site visit is conducted outside of regular locations and in the natural environment of the respondent. Therefore planning a site visit is crucial with data collection.
- Data Analysis: Data analysis is crucial to validate the assumptions of the research and decide the conclusion of the field research.
- Communicating the results: After the data analysis is complete, it is crucial to communicate the results obtained to the stakeholders of that research. This is done so that the stakeholders can take necessary action on the results.
4 Methods of field research
Following are the methods of the field research:
1. Direct observation
In the case of direct observation, the data is collected with the help of close inspection of natural behavior or setting. Rather than engaging the members actively in conversations, the direct observer tries to be detached and does not cause any obstruction in the setting. Direct observation may not be an alternative to different types of field research like participant observation.
It may be a preliminary approach for understanding an environment or form of behavior or individuals or groups before interacting with the members or developing the protocols of the interview. Using direct observation is not recommended in a private environment.
Advantages of direct observation method
- It offers a first hand and unfiltered data on individuals and their settings, interactions, etc.
- The data can be reliable and trustworthy since it is collected first hand.
Disadvantages of Direct observation method
- There could be many unusual behaviors that would not be typical. Reporting such behavior is not only challenging but including them in the report could affect the results and conclusions.
- Gathering the data by direct observation is a difficult and challenging task. Sometimes it could also cost a lot since the observers would be required to travel to the natural setting.
- Chances of researcher induced research bias are high.
Types of Data collected during direct observation
- The primary form of direct observation in the field notes. Field notes consist of detailed behavior, setting, or conversations that are recorded by the researcher.
- Structured protocols may be used as an alternative approach. Structured protocols contain a rating scale or checklist.
- Video clips and photographs are also a form of data collected.
This method of direct observation is useful when open, or public settings are used. As mentioned above, ethical concerns may arise through the use of direct observation methods in private settings.
2. Participant Observation
The participant method is a method of field research in which the researcher develops a detailed understanding of the composition of a specific society or setting by participating in the everyday rituals with its members. It was initially conceived in the early 20th century by anthropologists who were researching for native communities in different developing countries.
Now the method has become popular and is used by researchers to study a lot of issues. This is the primary research method which is used by ethnographers. Ethnographers are the ones who work in sociology and anthropology.
They focus on recording the specific details of social life, which occurs in a particular society or setting. The ethnographer who lives amongst the members of the community for many months or years tries to build long-lasting, trusting relations so that he can become a part of their social setting. Slowly, the ethnographer gains the trust of the members, and they start behaving naturally in the ethnographer’s presence.
- The ethnographer, with the help of participant observation, develops a thick understanding of the setting and its members in a society.
- This provides him with a privilege to observe the people in a natural setting with them. This generates useful data for the research.
- The researcher is expected to spend a lot of time and money to develop this understanding of people.
- The objectivity of the ethnographer may reduce by spending a lot of time with the members.
Types of data collected from the participant observation method
- The primary data obtained from this research are field notes. The ethnographer notes down all the observations as well as his experiences and then develops it into detailed formal notes.
- Ethnographers usually keep a diary which is a more close and informal record of all the things happening in their surroundings.
- The art of participant observation with the emphasis on developing relations with the members may lead to informal and conversational interviews rather than in-depth interviews. The data collected from these interviews become a part of field notes. The data may also consist of different interview transcripts.
Ethnography and ethical issues
One of the primary issues which confront ethnographers is deciding how and when to inform the members about them being a part of a research study. The ethnographer can identify himself as an observer at the beginning of the participant observation.
A general description of the objectives of the research should suffice. As time goes and relation develops with participants, then he can disclose the controversial aspects of the study, if any. Informed consent should be gotten from any member who agrees for a formal interview.
3. Qualitative Interviews
These are the types of field research that gathers data by directly asking questions to the participants. There are three types of qualitative interviews:
- Informal conversational interview
- Standardized open-ended interviews
- Informal conversational interview: These are the ones that typically occur during observation of participant or after direct observation The researcher starts by conversing with a single member about the setting. As the conversation proceeds, the researcher formulates particular questions, randomly, and starts asking them. This is done informally. When the researcher needs maximum flexibility to pursue the ideas and topics as and when they emerge in the conversation.
- These interviews allow the researcher to be very responsive to the individual differences and also to capture the emerging information.
- It may generate very less systematic data which is difficult to classify.
- Semi-Structured Interviews: This method involves recruiting the members formally from a setting to conduct an interview. Before the interview, a list of predetermined questions which is also known as an interview guide are prepared so that every participant will respond to similar questions. These questions are open-ended so that a lot of data can be collected from the participant. The researcher can pursue other topics as they emerge during the interview.
- Semi-structured interviews help to capture systematic data across the participants.
- Semi-structured interviews do not offer a lot of flexibility to respond to the new topics which unfold during the interview.
- Standardized open-ended interviews: These interviews are very much like surveys because the questions are scripted carefully and written before the interview. This helps to reduce the variability in the wordings of the questions. The researcher usually asks a series of questions in the same order to every participant. This method is suitable for qualitative studies which involve multiple participants.
Advantage: Compatibility is enabled across participants.
Disadvantage: This does not offer a lot of flexibility to respond to the new topics which come up during the interview.
Both semi-structured and standard interviews are recorded and should start by obtaining informed consent from the participant before the interview begins. The researcher also can write a separate note to describe the reaction of members to the interview or to the events which happened pre or post-interview.
4. Case Study
An in-depth analysis of a person or event is called a case study. This method is challenging to operate, but it is one of the easiest ways of researching since it involves a deep dive and with the understanding of data collection methods thoroughly and then concluding the data.
Advantages of field research
Following are the advantages of field research:
- The field research is usually carried out in a real-world environment where there is hardly any tampering of the variables, and the environment is not manipulated.
- Because the study is being conducted in a comfortable environment, the data collection can be done about supplementary topics which can be used elsewhere.
- The researcher gets a deep understanding of the research topics since he has proximity to them. This leads the research to be extensive and accurate.
Disadvantages of Field research
Following are the disadvantages of Field research:
- The field research studies are costly as well as time-consuming. They can take years to complete at times.
- Research bias is a common problem arising in almost every field of research.
- The method of field research is interpretive and is dependent on the ability of researchers to collect, analyze, as well as interpret data.
- External variables and interferences are challenging to control with this method, and it affects the outcome of the research at times..
Here is a video by Marketing91 on Field Research.
Examples of Field research
Understanding the impact of sports on child development
This kind of research can take several years to conduct since the sample size is enormous. The analysis of the collected data will provide insight into how sports affects the overall development of the kids. These kids may be present in different geographies or single geography, and several sports may be studied, or an only sport or a combination of both can be used.